By Natalie B Comptom
Washington – Road trips were different in 2020. Last year our advice focused on getting where you were going fast and spending as little time as possible in public spaces, like bathrooms to avoid so-called coronavirus toilet plumes (sorry to bring that up again).
Some of those tips will hold over into 2021. As more people are planning trips again and getting vaccines to do so safely, “normal” travel may resume later this year.
But travel industry insiders are still predicting road trips to be popular, and not just for their utility.
You’ll still need to keep the pandemic and typical road trip concerns top of mind. You’ve heard not to let your petrol tank get past a quarter of a tank; now you need to remember to pack extra face masks, too. These are the new rules for road tripping in 2021.
Covid safety should still be on your radar
Of course, until the pandemic is fully over, coronavirus will still be a factor in how you travel.
While you don’t have to be hypervigilant about sanitizing every surface you come across, Jessica Malaty Rivera, an epidemiologist with the Covid Tracking Project, recommends focusing on maintaining good hand hygiene, opting for contactless check-in and check-out at hotels when possible, wearing a mask and keeping a healthy distance when around others in public, even if you’re vaccinated.
“Right now, not enough people are fully vaccinated for you to do things like take your mask off or not physically distance,” she says.
Malaty Rivera also says travellers should consider getting coronavirus tests if passing through high-risk situations.
There are some rules that always stand, such as making sure you have enough petrol and water. Jasmin Shah, a photographer who has driven 15 000 miles since August, suggests downloading your maps offline, particularly as you travel through remote parts of the country.
Travel adviser Linda Jelencovich recommends people get travel insurance for worst-case scenarios, from trip cancellation to health emergencies.
“I always recommend that people take travel protection no matter what, because you never know,” she says. “They could get sick, or something happens and they have to get medevaced back.”
Have a destination in mind, but leave room for improvising
You can wander with points of interest in mind, relying on your map app of choice, or choose a tried-and-tested route.
Road-trip veterans encourage travellers to have an outline of a trip, or a final destination in mind, as they plan the journey. Know where you’ll sleep each night, but avoid planning each day with a rigid schedule to make space for fun or necessary detours.
“Part of what makes getting out on the road fun is that there are some unplanned pieces about it,” says Jon Gray, the chief executive operator of RVshare, an RV rental and listing company. “I think leaving some flexibility in the itinerary makes a lot of sense.”
Throughout the pandemic, travel blogger Sarah Fay has turned to road trips in lieu of international travel. Choosing outdoorsy routes and destinations – with time for detours found on the Roadtrippers app – have been beneficial for her mental health during a year where we were inside more than ever.
“A lot of things can change during covid,” Fay says. “I like the flexibility of having my car to be able to go anywhere and have my own space.”
Plan longer stays ASAP
Gray’s advice for having trip flexibility changes if you’re planning on staying in one place for a while. His tip is to book those longer stops ahead of time.
As with last year, camping, RV rentals and national park visits are going to be on the minds of cooped-up tourists opting for outdoor-focused trips.
Pack with intention
You’ve decided on your road trip; now you need to pack. Where you’re staying will change your packing situation immensely.
When the pandemic hit, Haley Hamblin, a photo editor for The Washington Post, and her fiance left their D.C. apartment behind and spent the last year road-tripping around the country, logging 27,000 miles on their Subaru. The couple has camped, stayed in Airbnbs, budget hotels, at friends and family’s homes.
Instead of sticking to suitcases, they use plastic bins to keep life organized. Some hold clothes, camping gear, kitchen equipment (like a cast-iron skillet and a pot for camp cooking) and dry goods. Their cooler is another stackable container that stores perishables.
“It’s easier if everything’s rectangular,” Hamblin says. “Then we do have some stuff that nicely squeezes in between.”
Hamblin says if you’re going to be doing a lot of camping or working on the road, essentials like collapsible water cubes, good camping chairs and a Jackery portable power station with solar panels to keep electronics charged are all game changers.
Make sure your vehicle is ready for the trip
If you haven’t been making a regular commute, or your car has been sitting around for a while, consider getting it checked out before you take off.
Richard Counihan, CEO of DigniFi, a site that offers personal auto repair loans, says commonly overlooked car parts are batteries, tires, fluids, belts and sensors. All of these items should “be checked before hitting the road, particularly if you’re going on a relatively long road trip,” he says. “Those are the things that wear out of the vehicle and do need to be checked.”
Cars sitting for a month or more can result in flat spots where the tyre meets the pavement, which may impact your car’s stability and control at higher speeds, Counihan says.
Also consider outfitting your car with gear for the trip to make your journey more pleasant. Counihan says campers may enjoy extras like car awnings or roof racks to store bikes and extra storage space.